Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Nu couché et homme à la guitarre

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Nu couché et homme à la guitarre
dated '11.4.72.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 39 3/8 in. (81 x 100 cm.)
Painted in April 1972
Valery, Geneva.
Stanley J. Seeger; his sale, Sotheby's, New York, 4 November 1993, lot 486.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 33, Oeuvres de 1971-1972, Paris, 1978, no. 345 (illustrated pl. 122)
The Picasso Projects, eds., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Final Years, 1970-1973, San Francisco, 2004, no. 72-078, p. 294 (illustrated).
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Pablo Picasso 1970-1972, May - September 1973, no. 187.
London, Waddington Galleries, Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, July - August 1981, no. 19.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Adrienne Dumas
Adrienne Dumas

Lot Essay

Nu couché et homme à la guitare is a lyrical painting by Pablo Picasso showing a woman reclining, being serenaded by a man whose face has been represented using the artist's own profile. This painting featured in the famous exhibition held shortly after Picasso's death, but organised just before it, at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, a show which comprised a large number of his recent works, revealing the tour de force that was this period in his career. Picasso himself had selected the works which were to be shown in the Avignon exhibition, revealing his own esteem for Nu couché et homme à la guitare.

In Nu couché et homme à la guitare, Picasso appears to have playfully employed a deliberately subdued palette of greys and browns which is punctuated by lighter washes of grey, the primed canvas left in reserve and crucially by the flashes of purple in the head of the man and in the body of his guitar. While the palette is restrained, the brushwork is far from it. Picasso has used an incredible range of marks in composing this picture. In parts, he has dabbed the paint onto the canvas, for instance in the mottled zone of the musician's head. In other places, there is a palpable, almost angry energy to the vivacious application of paint to the surface. Yet this serves as a backdrop that highlights the incredible flights of lyrical, sweeping brushstrokes that comprise the body of the man and parts of the woman as well as some of the outlines. These have a flowing liquidity that recalls the sensuality of Picasso's celebrated 1932 paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter, a reference reinforced by the fact that the woman here is shown sleeping, as Marie-Thérèse so often was. The swirling brushwork that Picasso has used to create the body of the man and also his guitar heightens the sensuality of the entire composition.

Picasso had been an incredible innovator throughout his career and had already had a following when, barely out of his teens, he had entered his famous Blue Period. Later, he was the pioneer of Cubism, breaking up the traditional forms associated with representation. Again and again, he approached painting, and mark-making, as a challenge, yet one that was integrally linked to his own person. He was an inveterate creator, with an incredible drive. This was an extension of his personality and of his emotions. As he himself explained, 'I paint the same way some people write their autobiography' (Picasso, quoted in J. Richardson, 'L'Epoque Jacqueline,' pp. 17-48, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972,, London & Paris, 1988, p. 28). During the post-war years, this became increasingly apparent. While his life may have become gradually more stable as he settled in the South of France, especially after he set up home with Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, he nonetheless channelled wave after wave of thought and feeling through his pictures, often using them as a form of projection or escapism.

This was especially the case in the whimsical scenes of romance that he created during those years, for instance Nu couché et homme à la guitare. The subject matter is idyllic, showing two people who appear to be lovers, one playing music to his sleeping partner. Picasso had included either sneaking or overt references to his own sexual appetites in his works throughout his life; during this period, though, its presence in his pictures is considered vicarious. Critics often quote him in conversation with his friend, the famous photographer Brassaï: 'Whenever I see you, my first impulse is to reach in my pocket to offer you a cigarette, even though I know very well that neither of us smokes any longer. Age has forced us to give it up, but the desire remains. It's the same with making love. We don't do it any more but the desire for it is still with us!' (Picasso, quoted in Brassaï, 'The Master at 90', reproduced pp. 270-74, M. McCully (ed.), A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, New Jersey, 1997, pp. 272-73).

Looking at Nu couché et homme à la guitare, it is clear that Picasso was thinking of love and passion. The figure of the woman recall the fluid forms of Picasso's pictures of Marie-Thérèse from an earlier decade. At the same time, the musician's face, shown in the form of Picasso's silhouette next to the mottled and dabbed textures of the hair, recalls his cipher-like infiltration of the compositions he created when his affair with Marie-Thérèse was still secret: during that earlier period, he had nonetheless wished to display and celebrate his relationship. He therefore hid it in plain sight, with his lover present in the form of stylised guitars and himself in the form of his distinctive silhouette which he has revived in Nu couché et homme à la guitare.

Like the devices that are present in Nu couché et homme à la guitare, the theme of the musician and the reclining nude was one that threaded its way through much of Picasso's art, as the artist conjured a lyrical and sensual world of music, romance and beauty. Over the years, he often turned to an imaginary, timeless, sometimes classical-seeming world, filling it with people whose antics he created, observed and enjoyed. Sometimes, they formed a parallel for his feelings at the time, sometimes a projection of his desires. But always, they were filled with an incredible sense of life. This is clear in Nu couché et homme à la guitare in the subject matter, which evokes a world of Elysian ease and youth, and in its execution: the picture has been created with an incredible variety of marks and movements. The artist was defiantly belying his years in order to create a vigorously-rendered painting that, in its range of textures, appears to pay tribute to the younger generations of contemporary painters emerging in the avant garde of Europe. At the same time, this energy also reveals an artist exorcising his own thoughts of mortality by pushing them away, crystallising his own life force upon the canvas and in the form of the young lovers he has depicted.

This defiance came to the fore in Picasso's 1973 exhibition in Avignon. There, the works such as Nu couché et homme à la guitare which he had selected to be shown shocked visitors with their bracing vigour. Picasso's interest in the rawness of painting and of life had come to the fore, resulting in an intriguing combination of the deliberatly abrasive and the lyrical, with the lyrical emerging triumphant. Pierre Daix, a friend and biographer of the artist who reviewed the exhibition, later commented: 'When I overheard the startled comments at the opening of his posthumous show in 1973, I thought that if there is such a thing as a paradise for painters, Picasso must be feeling jubilant' (Picasso, quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, trans. O. Emmet, New York, 1993, p. 367).

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